Structural capacitance in protein evolution and human diseases

Buckle AM

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Monash University.

Canonical mechanisms of protein evolution include the duplication and diversification of pre-existing folds through genetic alterations that include point mutations, insertions, deletions, and copy number amplifications, as well as post-translational modifications that modify processes such as folding efficiency and cellular localization. Following a survey of the human mutation database, we have identified an additional mechanism, that we term ’structural capacitance’, which results in the de novo generation of microstructure in previously disordered regions. We suggest that the potential for structural capacitance confers select proteins with the capacity to evolve over rapid timescales, facilitating saltatory evolution as opposed to exclusively canonical Darwinian mechanisms. Our results implicate the elements of protein microstructure generated by this distinct mechanism in the pathogenesis of a wide variety of human diseases. The benefits of rapidly furnishing the potential for evolutionary change conferred by structural capacitance are consequently counterbalanced by this accompanying risk. The phenomenon of structural capacitance has implications ranging from the ancestral diversification of protein folds to the engineering of synthetic proteins with enhanced evolvability.